Melbourne saw the third battle between Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen in what could be an epic battle. However that early race battle which saw Leclerc successfully defend his position before controlling the race at the front made it a rather tame affair compared to Sakhir and Jeddah.
Leclerc launched cleanly to pull across the Albert Park circuit and cover off any potential lunges from his Red Bull chasers. Then the Monegasque retained command over proceedings, marching away from eventual runner-up Sergio Perez and nabbing a bonus point for fastest lap.
Ferrari had utter control following the first safety car, despite Verstappen’s fuel issue problem, I think it’s unlikely if there wasn’t the issue for the Red Bull that Leclerc was too far ahead. It means Leclerc leads Verstappen by forty-six points, following the best start to the season for Ferrari since 2008.
Going into the weekend there were questions for Ferrari about whether the fight would be close as they believed Red Bull would be stronger at a lower speed street circuit, the race think proved the team have got their act together after those difficult years from 2018 to 2020. I am also wondering if reliability is going to play a bigger role than we normally expect in the modern era.
While Melbourne didn’t have the thrilling battles between Leclerc-Verstappen, it’s a reminder that the sport is twenty-three marathons and while we all enjoyed the wheel to wheel battles, not every race can be like that. It asks the question that will we on the pre-2016 street circuits get races as we saw in Melbourne.
Melbourne will not be remembered in the same way, but I believe it may have highlighted the challenges of this season, Leclerc’s win was almost remoisten of the wins at Spa and Monza in 2019. Lingering in my mind as well is to almost inevitable event, when do they crash? How do they both respond to that?
I also think we are seeing a new Leclerc, although the Ferrari driver had rebuffed that saying there had been a linear, year-on-year improvement and not a sudden step change that has coincided with Ferrari hitting the front. That development was on show in the manner with which he took his fourth win in F1.
so far in 2022, he has proved his credentials in combat with Verstappen. But in Australia, he demonstrated the breadth of his skill set by taking command of proceedings and never looking as though he might let first place slip. The
Verstappen despite two retirements in three races, is still not giving up on the title despite slipping almost two race wins behind Leclerc. I think Red Bull however cannot allow Ferrari to get too far ahead as history often tells us that if you can string together the majority of the first 25% to 40% of the season you often go on to win the championship.
It’s not just the headline retirements, with another fuel system issue for a Red Bull-badged Honda powertrain hitting in Australia. The team’s set-up decision to favour low-drag and boost its top speed, its joker card in Saudi Arabia, meant Verstappen had a lack of balance in practice and that put his nose out of joint for qualifying.
However, I still think we need to wait to see if Leclerc or Verstappen can string a couple of wins over four races to see who is looking the best heading into the European-North Americas leg. Probably after Barcelona, we can start to look at the pecking order, I think also that is almost make or break for Mercedes this season.
Although Ferrari’s wins in Bahrain and Australia have been helped by Max Verstappen retiring, at both events the Italian team was quicker than Red Bull. Tyre management and a better-balanced car Mattia Binotto believes also played a role, explaining “I don’t think that the downforce level was an element because, if I look at the speed on the straights, if I look at our direct competitors, I think that finally they ran a higher downforce level compared to what they had, for example, in Jeddah, and they were a lot closer to us.”
We also know that none of the top three teams has brought upgrades since the Sakhir Test, meaning Imola will possible be the real test. However the language and mitigating factors in the days after the race there were suggestions from nearly every team they would wait till Barcelona.
Lewis Hamilton looked comfortable in third before the late safety car, but he was still a few seconds behind Leclerc and Sergio Perez. I don’t think Mercedes are fully out of this yet, the problems are known and they have been open with them, however, they cannot just hope to benefit from mistakes or retirements.
Melbourne was also the first time since Silverstone 1999 that three British drivers had finished in the top five, Russell third Hamilton fourth and Lando Norris fifth. Mercedes power still I believe is one of the stronger power units, the works team just need to figure out how the porpoising issue.
Russell is doing the job I think Mercedes want right now, although it’s not the ideal job as they would be fighting Ferrari-Red Bull for wins, picking up maximum points when Hamilton can’t. The unknown is because both drivers accept that they aren’t, at the moment fighting for wins or the championship, is when and if they get the car able to join the fight at the front?
There appears to be still difficulties for Mercedes, maybe we were too dismissive of the ‘spin’ we have got used to in Barcelona. Digging into the times the gap between Red Bull and Ferrari since Bahrain has grown to eight tenths, that appears not to be the street circuit effect, by in Melbourne the numbers don’t lie, what is going on at Mercedes remains one of the unanswered questions.
But they were able to before Red Bull’s retirement looked to be able to close the gap slightly however not enough to challenge. The data suggests the opposite they have dropped on pace 1.229 seconds behind, putting Mercedes on paper behind both McLaren and Alpine.
McLaren is well looking to make some progress, fifth land sixth a big leap forward after its toils in Bahrain and Saudi that were a long way adrift of the hype it created in pre-season testing. I think they were not possibly understanding how to set up the car, but in Melbourne they could have gotten the car the into the right window but I think time will tell.
Fifth and sixth for McLaren marked a significant leap forward after its toils in Bahrain and Saudi that were a long way adrift of the hype it created in pre-season testing. You need to wonder when we go to into the summer in Europe if we get a heatwave will they slip back?